"Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures.”*

I’m pretty sure that each and every one of us has odd culinary preferences that we only indulge when we’re alone. I often make a never-the-same-twice dish that very loosely resembles fried rice, created from various leftovers and my lazy determination to only dirty one pan; I indulge my sweet tooth with impromptu desserts made of various combos of peanut butter, honey, chocolate chips and raw oats. When I cook for myself I am both less thoughtful and more inventive than when I cook for others.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone (edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler) is an irresistible window into the many different ways we approach cooking for and eating by ourselves. “A is for Dining Alone ...and so am I, if a choice must be made between most people I know and myself,” M.F.K. Fisher admits, as she writes about learning to make and serve herself delicious meals; other writers talk about the ritual of dining out alone. Steve Almond, on the other hand, hones his cooking skills only “in the abject hope that people would spend time with me if I put good things in their mouths;” Rattawut Lapcharoensap laments that recreating the meals of his native Thailand can “reinforce rather than eradicate feelings of dislocation and homesickness” when there’s no one to share them with him.  Some people talk about the joys of eating the same meal day after day without any diminished pleasure:  Ann Patchett admits happily eating Saltine crackers for dinner many nights in a row; Jeremy Jackson finds comfort in black beans and cornbread; Phoebe Nobles proudly eats asparagus every day for two months. And while Erin Ergenbright admits that dining alone feels wrong to her, Holly Hughes, a mother of three, fantasizes about the delicious meals she would eat if she only had to cook for herself. Writers proudly include their recipes for everything from Yellowfin Tuna with Heirloom Tomatoes to White-on-White Lunch For When No One is Looking.

I have read this collection three times now, and each time I am once again comforted and amused by all of the ways we find sustenance when no one is watching. As Laurie Colwin says in the first essay, “People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.”

So what do you eat when you are alone, really?

*From the essay “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” by Laurie Colwin.

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